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Retro Revolution: Manual Inspection

Posted on Monday, November 28 @ 14:14:11 PST by KevinS

Are you like me? As a kid, did you ever open up the game your parents just bought you in the car and proceed to read every word of the manual to pump yourself up? Are you the type that knows the interesting backstories of characters that weren't entirely fleshed out in their respective games, like the Three Dirty Dwarves and Birdo?

What brings this up is, oddly enough, the closing of the old GR office. In the rubble of what was being given away and liquified, a plastic bag sat in front of the bookshelf near the front door. I was the only person in the office giddy at the sight of the stacks and stacks of old instruction manuals held inside. And not only were they old manuals, they were primarily Sega CD and Saturn manuals! Some of them were for games I've not even heard of! In an office filled with debug games and unusual swag, I get most excited about leaving with a handful of manuals? Yes. Yes I do.

It's honestly a shame in my eyes that the manual has gone the way of the Dodo. Maybe it's the way I play my games, maybe it's just personal nostalgia, but there's something magical about having that touch of backstory and information that brought games to life in an era that had more trouble telling intricate stories. The manual used to carry the character bios, which was always fun to look over, and different world the player would be traveling around to. With certain games there was even more than just playing instructions, power-up info and basic play information; games like Might & Magic for the Genesis and Earthbound for SNES even came with full-color strategy guides so you couldn't miss a moment of the game!

What happened then? Put bluntly, evolution; when the disc and drive space became available there was no need to print out manuals. Instead, the play instructions and backstory were installed with the game, so while playing they can be accessed at any time. The prevailing argument for this seems to be that not only does it cut down on printing costs, but it's better for the environment. I understand it, but I still feel a sense of loss.

There are still manuals out there, but it drives me crazy when I flip through and realize it's only looks bigger because a few pages have been translated into multiple languages. It's not that I'm angry about the language business, but that I'm given false hope that there's something more within than just how to turn a system on and get through the title screen.

I know there are a few games that come with detailed info in a few pages, but I've come to accept that there won't be any more interesting gems to be hidden in manuals (like Birdo's "coming out" blurb). I still open up my games in the car sometimeswhen I'm not driving, of courseand seeing if anything's worth reading there. It might not even be simple nostalgia at this point… just habit. A child-like, glorious habit. Don't you?

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